Top critical review
Get the US version.
on 27 March 2017
Thank you for the pointers about the versions to get - very informative. That said, I remember this album from the time of its release and it never "floated my boat". The wait for it was very long after Mr Fantasy and they seemed to be a band with troubles of some kind but I went to Hyde Park to see them play a promotional concert for this. For what it's worth, I had a fine afternoon and enjoyed all the acts, including Traffic, but I couldn't help but notice that they looked like they'd been sleeping in hedges. Strange, really, these were big-time pop stars.
After the brilliant Mr Fantasy, this disappointed me a lot. A girl I knew bought it, I heard it. Despite what is said here, too many of the songs appear to be hurried and unpolished, especially the lyrics of the Capaldi/Winwood offerings. To me, these are the noodlings of children - ("40,000 headmen" is ridiculous) and tracks such as "Shangai Noodle Factory" from Last Exit give the game away - this band don't seem to
think lyrics matter. It sounds like a theme plucked from a stoned imagination, no reality, written on scraps in moments and read from the
top of a piano - (Vagabond Virgin) etc, and horrific liberties taken to make these "fit" not-especially strong melodies, no polish at all. Mystifying! I think also that nobody knows how good a guitar player Dave Mason is because he was obliterated by Winwood spreading himself too thin - Winwood doesn't need to go anywhere near a guitar with Dave Mason in the band but on this album in particular, one would never know this. Well, he was only there for five minutes anyway, he kept leaving and it shows. Problems, the band not working to their
strengths at all, I felt. Disappointing, Dave Mason's playing is worth hearing, he's a fine guitarist. My friend (the girl) liked it, so that's all right
but the "clean" recording (Chris Blackwell, I think) sounded like a hurried "workaround because of lateness" after the creative studio work of Mr Fantasy and the release of "Are you feeling all right?" (Mason) as a single smacked of desperation to me - there is no obvious single in this collection and Traffic really ceased to register as a chart band at that time. For me, Traffic continued to not live up to the expectations, I didn't buy this and the next I heard was "On the road" and "Low Spark", none of it necessary to my life. To my ear, Traffic (and Winwood)
was a band that had too many problems to fulfil their obvious potential. Shame. But if you like it, get the US version, I have Mr Fantasy
and it's a good recording of a decent album.
It's hard to say - everybody "here" loves it and that's great. The thing is, I heard about the Spencer Davis Group early, I know albums such
as "Autumn '66" with Winwood singing stuff like "Nobody knows you when you're down and out", "When a man loves a woman" and "Till the
end of time" and he delivers, in full, on a phenomenal voice. Earlier, he'd been setting studios on fire with renditions of "Dimples", "I can't
stand it" and mucking in perfectly with a band that obviously had a very strong work ethic and we all know about the massive "Gimme some lovin'" and "I'm a Man" - incendiary singing! Traffic's early showing was "Paper Sun" and "Hole in my Shoe", well crafted pop that deservedly charted and all seemed set fair. What happened? I don't know but something certainly did. They were quiet for almost a year. Nothing. Zilch. I don't think they were off to America to promote stuff, after a long break "No Face, No Name, No number" (The "Mr Fantasy" album was
history by now) was released but the band didn't tour. Something went wrong. Winwood didn't appear to recover his early professionalism
until the 80s with stuff like "Valerie" and "Higher Love". I've got ears - I don't think that Steve Winwood was ever the same after that break in normal service.
Well, there were rumours of course about these personnel difficulties, fights about what to release etc and maybe some substance issues - I've seen them live about the time of "Eagle Flies" and Chris Wood was carried off mid-set, completely unconscious after staggering about
and being generally in the way (true) but the show went on, so we know it wasn't illness. The group saw no reason to explain to the audience, no bulletin, no face-saver, no reassurance, they just went on like "this happens" - that group were very big on drugs, that's certain. It was part of their life, they didn't realise that an audience might see that differently or not even undersrtand it. Wood was totally off his cake, that's what. I can't say. My feeling is that I'll leave cocaine alone, that's all, really, and I might think twice before I join a band with a man that has known nothing but the success of a child prodigy whilst I have nothing, and then agreeing to share a commune with (basically) a kid.That was never going to be easy, was it? That's the 60s for you, a young person perhaps "cutting loose" with ambitions, ideals and appetites but having lost
the steadiness of being in a band (Spencer Davis) that had never been any less than model professionals, excellent musicians with a
repertoire that spanned far more than Traffic's ever did. On what I might try to describe as the more "mature" elements of that, I'd say that
Winwood benefited from some good coaching, both for his vocals and his piano playing. He never got anywhere near that again, seems like he didn't take it with him. I wouldn't know about drug damage but I feel that the young Stevie Winwood was probably too young to manage being the biggest egg in the basket. Never mind, he's done all right, hasn't he?